A New York City Gem

There are those who hate New York City and then there are those who love New York City. Living in the shadow of The City, I do not love it, nor do I hate it. In most cases it is the mess I have to worm my way through to get off the island in the search of some far off destination.

The City that Never Sleeps is on the bucket list of so many foreigners. It seems that it holds a greater attraction over places like Hollywood, Los Angeles, The Pacific Coast Highway, The Grand Canyon, and many other attractions dotted across this enormous country.

No matter if you love or hate it, it can not be denied that this city has a lot to offer. Having an international background I can fully appreciate the complete melting pot of cultures from around the globe. It has great theatre shows, museums are aplenty, and the skyline, especially seen at night, is breathtaking.

For the bike racing community, New York City offers plenty of options: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Central Park in Manhattan, Floyd Bennett Field also in Brooklyn, Randalls Island and not to forget several other Criterius are held in Harlem and Morningside Heights in Manhattan. All these venues make for some awesome bicycle racing in the city.

Even with all those places to race, there is yet another city venue that is often overlooked. The one I am talking about is located in Flushing Queens, a few blocks north of the Long Island Expressway in Kissena Park. Of course, what I am alluding to is the Kissena Velodrome, an outdoor asphalt track four hundred meters in length.

I got into Track racing just over a year ago, therefore I will not make a fool of myself pretending that I know the complete history of the velodrome. If anyone wants a detailed history lesson, I am sure the Internet can offer better answers. If, however, a more personalized history lesson is desired, then a chat on race day with some of the longtime members would be the best course of action. Plus, you get to spectate some great racing.

From my discussions with fellow bike racers, it appears that the one thing that terrifies people about racing on the track is the lack of brakes and a having to pedal a single fixed gear. Just like the reluctant, I was also terrified of racing on the track. But after attending a clinic and a few races (with a crash) under my belt, I quickly got used to this format. Now, after completing a track event, I am drawn more and more into the discipline even at the detriment of road racing, and in many ways, I now find it safer than racing on the road.

The feeling of safety is a result of things such as no more sudden stops from the riders in front of you and proper racing etiquette constantly being enforced. Most of the dangerous behavior found in a road race would never be tolerated on the track. Also, racing multiple races per race day drastically increases your learning curve. What’s not to like?

When I first started racing at the track, it quickly brought back memories from High School and College. Back in those prehistoric days, I used to be a runner and I ran on the track and field team as a middle distance runner. For me this comprised of events hovering around the eight hundred meter race even though I did get to do other longer and shorter events as needed by the coach.

After my first few races at the Kissena Velodrome, I noticed the same feelings I had way back then. The feelings I am referring to is that of being completely wrecked at the end of the race, your legs twitching, the inability to breathe, and wanting to vomit after crossing the finish line. I finally found a way to re-live those long lost feelings.

During my first season of racing at Kissena I made an unexpected discovery. I informally named my finding The Kissena Family. Over the summer, I learned that most of the individuals that show up to race, and also organize the events, are quite sociable and friendly. They offer encouragement, advice, and even help with the bike, in spite of the fact that they are your rivals on the track.

The week following the conclusion of the Wednesday Twilight Series, I was in a bit of a funk, knowing that I was not going to be going to the Track to race and spend time with the now familiar crowd. After all, it had become my Wednesday afternoon ritual.

The locals like to complain about the track. It might just be the New York thing, which is to have a complaint about everything. But in this case, the complaints do have some merit. Many cracks traverse the width of the track. The exit of turn four is infamous for the drain pipe which pushes up on the surface of the track in the sprinter lane. The infield is usually filled with tall swampy grass, and of course in the spring we are subjected to an overload of pollen, which in turns generates the infamous “Track Hack.”

But maybe all these features give character to the Velodrome. The rough surface forces you to wrestle the bike when pushing for max speed in the search for a win or points in a race. Perhaps the roughness of the venue will make better racers out of us.

Yes, it would be great if the track were to be resurfaced and better care was provided by The City. In any case, I will never count on this to pass, so even if the Kissena Velodrome is ignored by the politicians, I am still very grateful that this facility exists within easy reach from my house. I am delighted I found this small New York City gem nestled in between all the chaotic hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. This gem allows me to push past my limits and into the meditative chaos that is called track racing.

If you are any bit curious, come to the Kissena Velodrome and we will share this gem with the you. At least give it a try, you never know, you might get hooked and become part of the Kissena Family.

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